About Hedgerows

The term ‘hedgerow’ is often confusing and loosely applied and can describe a range of linear features composed of woody shrubs and/or trees. In North America it is often used interchangeably with ‘fencerow’. A major distinction between fencerows and hedgerows could be proposed in that the latter are usually managed and the former not; however, the type and timing of management for both can vary enormously.

Kawarthahedgerow Hedgerow in the Kwarthas, Ontario (c) D.Monkman

WillowHedge Willow Hedge from PEI, Canada

Shelterbelt Conferous Shelterbelt

FencerowKingTShip Fencerow, King Township, Ontario,CA

Hedgerow management, if it occurs at all, is often by the traditional skill of coppicing or hedgelaying; both involve rejuvenating a hedgerow by cutting shrubs/trees at the base, but hedgelaying retains the still-living living stem which is now ‘layed over’ at an angle, creating a tightly packed fence. Fences of Osage orange so layed in the mid-west were described as “hog tight and bull strong”. Link to Management

midland Style Midland Style Hedgerow (C) Nigel Adams

Hedgerows can be described as 'living fences' because their original use was undoubtedly to provide protection or demarcate property, but the earliest intentional uses of plant materal as a fence was probably what is often described as a 'dead hedgerow'. Hedgerows and their management have been part of human history for 1000s of years and possibly even longer. In his two volume treatise 'European Field Boundaries' (see Resources), George Muller proposes that early types of dead hedgerow, including the stick picket fence, were in use in the Paleolithic 1.8m-9,500 years BC. Similar dead hedges are in use still today: the Massai people of Southern Kenya and Northern Tanzania use accacia thorn 'enkang' used to protect their 'boma' (villages).

Forman and Baudry (1984) describe three types of hedgerow: planted, spontaneous and remnant. Hedgerow creation and planting has given rise to a distinctive landscape- bocage- and also to a rich seam of agricultural history related to the various styles, tools and societies that has evloved with hedgelaying and associated practices. In Europe where the traditions have arguably been strongest, the connection between people and nature has given rise to social institutions;for example in the UK UK their is the National Hedgelaying Society and a host of local groups, wwhile in the Netherlands their is Heg and Landschap.


A Stick Picket Fence (c) Georg Muller

The story of Hedgerows in North America is one the NAHS was formed to tell!.

The Indigeous peoples of North America used trees and shrubs as fences in the landscape, but how widespread the practices were is not clear. The Gwich'in First Nation have for centuries hunted large numbers of caribou using surrounds, fences, or corral-type arrangements, as this wonderful short by Brandon Kyikavichik portrays. The remians of these fences are still present in the Vuntut Gwitchin


The head of a Gwich'In Caribou Corrall (c)ParksCanada from the Caribou Fences Interactive Website

In his book From Coastal Wilderness to Fruited Plain (1994) , Gordon Whitney gives an overview of the history of the Hedgerow in Eastern North America. Remnant hedgerows- shrubs and trees left over from forest clearance- were never common and, due to woodland abundance, the planting of hedgerows was never widely practiced until more recently; the labour of planting and upkeep was considered too onerous. Experiments with hawthorn hedging took place on the East Coast, expecially around Delaware and Philedelphia in the late 1700s. Paul Bourcier describes the importance of the farm hedgerow to a new breed of 'Gentleman Farmer' in his paper "In Excellent Order": The Gentleman Farmer Views His Fences 1790-1860 and introduces some important figues such as John Spurrier, Caleb Kirk, Benjamin SHhurtleff and Joseph Caldwell {link to Resources]. An extensive phase of Osage Orange planting occured in the 1850s-1870s as a living fence in the open prairie grasslands of the midwest and again in the 1820s "dustbowl' era to manage soils and erosion.


Hedgerows today are noted for their importance for wildlife and for the wide range of ‘services’ they provide for human societies such as pollination, soil protection and flood management [Link to The Useful Hedge]

Whatever your interest in hedgerows, we hope you will find something here. If not, get in touch!

This page will be periodically updated.